African Tropical Rainforest Observation Network

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Nouabale-Ndoki National Park

  • January - April 2017
  • Congo Brazzaville
Field team Nouabale Ndoki, Congo Brazzaville, 2017 (photo: Aida Cuni Sanchez)

Between January and April 2017, a team lead by Dr Cuni-Sanchez has been re-measuring permanent forest plots in northern Congo as part of a much wider forest re-census aimed at studying the effects of the 2015-2016 El Niño Event on tropical forests’ biomass (for which over 100 plots are being re-censured across Africa). A total of 12 one hectare plots were re-measured in the National Park of Nouabale-Ndoki, probably the wildest and most remote area the country. Mr Madingou, a student from the University of Marien N'Gouabi, also joined the team.

The team carried out four field campaigns from the Bomassa village (Park headquarters), going deeper into this National Park every time. First, they sampled three plots at the edge of the Park. They only had to paddle a canoe every day for 2 hours (upstream in the morning and downstream in the afternoon) from the campsite. This Park is well-known for having many forest elephants and it is not easy to find a campsite which has water and it is no swampy, and it is ‘safe’ from elephants at the same time.

For the second campaign, things got a bit more challenging: after the 1h canoe, they walked for two days, crossing two streams with water up to the waist, to find a ‘good’ campsite. They managed to sample three plots, and in one of them they were chased by a group of angry monkeys (apparently the fruit tree used by these black-and-white colobus monkeys was very important to them).

For the third campaign, things got even harder: 1-day by truck, 1-day by motorised canoe, and 3-day hike (crossing several streams, one of which was so deep that they had to swim). Prof Harris, from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, joined this trip to help with the botany (poor man!). And for the fourth campaign, the rains had started: so on top of everything, it rained. A lot. And often. The trees were happy, not the scientists!

Luckily, the local field assistants were very helpful, and were keen to paddle the canoes, find the plots, scare the gorillas and elephants, carry everything (tents, food, paint and tapes to measure trees, even the aluminium foldable ladder), and make a lovely dinner with forest ‘spinach’ leaves (Gnetum sp.) and forest almond sauce (Irvingia sp.) at night. They even had a local remedy for back ache and insect bites. Luckily, the team didn’t have to try the one for snake bites!